the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Year A - Proper 21

Liturgy of the Word:
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Are You Giving Lip-Service to God?
Matthew 21:23-32

As Jesus was nearing Jerusalem he sent two disciples ahead to make preparations for his entry into the City. Little did they know what he was up to. And little did they know what kind of entry he planned to make into Jerusalem.

When Jesus rode into the city on the back of a donkey it was the same way that David entered the citadel when he became King. Every king after that, from Solomon down to Josiah, entered the city of Jerusalem riding on a donkey. And when Jesus entered into the city that day it was as her King. A more obvious and provocative political statement could not have been made.

He rode the donkey up to the temple and went in. When inside, he took charge, driving out the money changers and the vendors of sacrificial animals. He said to them,
"My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves."

Jesus then left Jerusalem and went to Bethany where he spent the night, probably in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

The Questioning of Jesus
Today's gospel reading begins on the very next day. The chief priests were still reeling from the events of the day before. So, they approached him and demanded to know what Jesus' authority was.

The highest authority in the Land was the Roman government, and its Governor, Pilate. Had Jesus come from the Romans, disguised as a Jewish peasant to provoke a rebellion?

The next highest authority was the Sanhedrin, made up of 70 of the elder priests of the Temple. In other words, themselves. Could this upstart peasant be one of the wilderness prophets come to Jerusalem to stir up revolution? What he was doing was a challenge to their authority.

So, they demanded to know the source of his.

Jesus' Trap
Jesus responded to their question by asking them another question. He suggested a trade of information. He bargained to tell the source if his authority if they could tell him the source of John's authority to baptize for the remission of sins.

It was a clever trap. John had come on the scene several years earlier preaching repentance and demanding baptism for the remission of sins. John had a great following among the common people. John told the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the chief priests that they were a "brood of vipers." Snakes in the grass. When they refused to accept his preaching, they claimed that they were God's chosen people and needed no salvation. They believed that one could worship God only in Jerusalem at the Temple by making a proper sacrifice. John told them that God could raise up children of Abraham from the very stones on the ground, and what God wanted was repentance, and right living, not blood sacrifice.

So Jesus caused them to remember John. To remember the trouble he caused. He challenged them to admit their belief about John right then and there in front of the people.

They could not answer. No matter what answer they gave, they would be shown up for hypocrites. The hypocrites that they were.

The Parable of the Two Sons
So Jesus tells a short but poignant story. A parable about a man who had two sons. Like God who had two groups of children, Jews and Gentiles.

He went to the first and said go and work in my vineyard today. The first son responded by refusing to go. Such a refusal would have meant humiliation and disgrace to the father.

He then went to the second son and asked him to go into the vineyard and work all day. This son very responsibly said he would go.

So far we have a parallel between the two groups of God's children, those with whom he has a covenant (the second son) and those with whom he has not (the first son).

Then comes the twist. The first son decides to go to the vineyard and work. The second son decides he has better things to do today and may go there another day.

The parallel is clear. And the meaning does not escape the understanding of the Chief Priests. As the prophets had preached long ago, Jesus was now preaching again:
"My people have deserted me, and the gentiles now come to me with greater humility and more righteous lives than my own people.”

Jesus brings the point home by his question: "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They admitted it was the first. Even though at first he rejected his fathers will, he later repented of his actions and obeyed his father's will. The second son had been faithful in the beginning, promising to obey, but then he actually disobeyed. His obedience was only lip-service.

The Psalmist says,
"O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."

Jesus challenged the power and authority of the religious leaders of his day. He challenged the way in which they had perverted God's love. He challenged the way they had set up a kingdom for themselves and kept out those who needed Gods love and mercy.

Jesus told them that the tax collectors and the prostitutes, who believed in the preaching of John would go into the Kingdom of God before them. What he means here is the sinners who repent and obey the will of the Father, accept God's rule over their lives a lot quicker than those who only give lip-service to God.

Are you Giving Lip-Service to God?


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